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Health and Survival: Food - Avoiding Poisonous Plants.

Poisonous white snakeroot source

As explained in the last post, there are two types of edible plants, cultivated and wild.

It's much easier to recognize cultivated plants because they are found in farms and gardens (and we buy them in grocery stores). And since they are specifically grown for human consumption, it's a pretty safe bet they are safe to eat (after preparation).

Edible wild plants however are harder to classify. And the fact that they are harder to classify, makes them harder to determine if they are poisonous or not.

And since it's better to be hungry than sick, avoiding poisonous plants is incredibly important. So let's go through some basics of what to avoid.


Toxic Milkweed Plant
Wild plants or trees that have milky or discolored sap.

Poison Oak
Glossy green or dull leaves.

Death Cama bulb and Wild Onion bulb.
Wild beans, bulbs or seeds inside pods.

  • The wild onion smells like an onion, the death camas do not. Wild Onions are safe to eat (wash, bake/boil first). But you have to be really careful not to confuse it with its poisonous cousin, the death camas. Moderate ingestion of death camas can lead to convulsions, coma and death source.

Poisonous Castor Bean Plant
The plant has a bitter or soapy taste.

Poisonous White Baneberry or Doll's Eyes
Plants with yellow and white berries.

Poisonous European holly
Plants that have spines, fine hairs or thorns

Wild parsnip
Plants that have dill, carrot, parsnip or parsley like leaves.

  • Even though the taproot of the wild parsnip (looks like a white carrot) is edible (wash, bake and boil), the leaves and stems contain a toxic bitter sap. And upon skin contact, can give you nasty blisters when exposed to sunlight.

Poison Parasol Mushroom
Umbrella-shaped plants (like mushrooms).

Cherry plum
Parts of the plant that have an "almond" scent (an indication of benzaldehyde and cyanide).

  • Cherry plums are edible, but the leaves are not and have an "almond" scent. I will cover this in more detail in later posts. But many edible plants have edible and poisonous parts to it.

Ergot fungus growing on triticale.
Grain heads with pink, purple or black spurs.

  • These spurs are an indication of ergot fungus. Ergot fungus grows on the ears of rye, triticale, wheat and barley, and sometimes oats.
  • Prolonged ingested by humans has caused ergotism. Symptoms include spasms, diarrhea, paresthesias, mania, psychosis, headaches, nausea, vomiting. source

Poison Ivy
3 Leaf growth pattern.

In Conclusion.

“Identifying plants that are poisonous is difficult since poisonous plants do not appear distinctly different from their nontoxic relatives or counterparts.” source

Many plants that we buy from the grocery store are pre-processed to eliminate toxic compounds from the plant. Plants that are bought directly from farmers are cultivated, genetically engineered or evolved through husbandry, to make it safe for consumption, versus their visually similar wild toxic counterparts.

So even though you may see a wild plant that looks like an onion, it’s not the onion you are used to buying at the local market, and it could be poisonous.

Remember, this list is not exhaustive. The amount of plant species and derivations thereof are too numerous to list in this post. But this gives you a basic template of what to look for in poisonous plants.

In the next post, I will cover how to safely test the edibility of plants with the "Edibility Test."

*_Sources: U.S. Department of Defense - Survival Handbooks, Army Field Manuals, Soldiers Guides and Personal Experience.

Stay frosty people.

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